Undergraduate Research in Spanish

At Pomona College, research is valued across the disciplines. Below are recent summer undergraduate research projects by Spanish Department students.


The Mama and the Papa: A Look at Alejandra Pizarnik's Family Dynamics in Her Writing

Janet Herrera ’16; Mentor: Suzanne Chavez Silverman

My project involved challenging the received notion of intactness in “the” Latin(o) American family by exploring the life of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik and myself. The main research question is: how does abandonment change the feeling on unity within a family and how does this distort the way we perceive family? I also briefly explore the fraught topic of sexual abuse in Pizarnik’s diary entries. Additionally, I read much of Pizarnik’s poetry in order to complete the first phase of this project, which was choosing the texts that complicated the notion of “the” family. In the second phase of the project, I chose to write about “Poema para el padre” (1971) and a journal entry from 1965 simply titled “Domingo, 25 de julio.” In order to delve into these pieces, I utilized secondary sources. I relied on psychoanalytic literature such as Lacan and on feminist literary theory. With these, I was able to make the argument that Pizarnik’s way of writing shows a detachment from her family. In the final phase of the project, I extended my work to include my own narrative, which highlighted the significance of acknowledging mental illness and other “fractures” a family might contain. For example, I wrote on being raised by a single mom and having an absent-father. By combining the narrative poem and autobiographical narrative, I was able to paint an overarching view that problematizes the received notion of the Latin(o) family as intact.
Funding Provided By: Seed

What Lies Beneath: El cuento de un pueblo contra una mina en la ecología social de La Joya

Alejandra Chávez ’17; Mentor: Suzanne Chavez Silverman

My project examines the tensions and contradictions impacting a small, agricultural town in México after the March 2010 arrival of SilverCrest Mines INC. (SCM), a Canadian company. My project addresses the following questions: What changes have SCM’s caused in La Joya? What emotions have these changes fomented? Do media representations of SCM align with personal experiences? These questions and more are answered through short literary essays based on 16 qualitative interviews, which I contrastively paired with my own first-person account, creating a nuanced narrative. Additionally, this project includes photography of the town, mining locations and at-risk agricultural lands/ livestock. The first phase of the project involved traveling to La Joya to interview residents who were for and against the mine. After more than 19 hours of interviews, I recorded participants’ voices and reflected in a journal. The second phase included reading about the history and current state of mining in México, working with qualitative data, first-hand accounts of miners and autobiographical poetry. Through the transcription of responses and my own analysis, I then wrote a conversational, descriptive narrative detailing how the presence of SCM has affected the townspeople that do and do not reside in La Joya. Thus, my research spotlights the significance and courage behind the voice of people from La Joya, first-person testimonial accounts and themes of money and power structures in México.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate


Childhood Amidst the Ravages of War: The Voice of a Young Woman During "La Violencia" in Colombia

Angela Pico (2016); Mentor(s): Susana Chávez-Silverman

Abstract: My project involved capturing a first- hand account of a woman during one of the most important and violent times in Colombia, “La Violencia” (1948-1958). This project addresses the following issues: The way in which a child perceives a civil war in a rural village in the middle of the dense Colombian countryside; and subsequently, after the war, the manner in which her childhood and youth were shaped amidst the scars of war and the cultural traditions and everyday life of mid-century rural Colombia. These questions are answered through a series of short literary essays recounting the childhood and adolescent memories of my grandmother (Susana Osorio). Additionally, this project includes photography from the area in question, as well as artistic renderings of the memoir that capture her abstract feelings to further bring the experience to life. The first phase of the project involved traveling to Colombia and interviewing my grandmother. Then, we proceeded to go to her native village and childhood home to physically and vividly retrace her childhood. After more than 10 hours of interview, I recorded her voice and my own observations on paper. The second phase of the project involved writing a type of lyrical narrative detailing her childhood memoirs that included her voice through my voice, compiling the photography and creating the artwork. Thus, this research highlights the significance of a woman’s voice that has not been heard and of first- person testimonial accounts, as well as themes of gender and family structures and war in Latin-American history. 
Funding Provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities


Disorienting the Monolingual Text: Spanglish as a Queer Writing and Reading Practice in Susana Chávez-Silverman's Bilingual Memoirs

Eduardo Gonzalez (2014); Mentor(s): Susana Chávez-Silverman

Abstract withheld upon request
Funding Provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities

Changing Views of Church in 19th-Century Spanish Costumbrismo

Madeleine DeMeules (2014); Mentor(s): Mary Coffey

Abstract: In the mid-eighteenth century, a new genre of periodical literature, costumbrismo, emerged throughout Spain. Costumbrismo aims to depict the everyday characters and societies of a nation through vignettes and, occasionally, accompanying illustrations. Costumbrismo truly flourished during the 19th century. During this time, absolutist institutions like the Catholic Church, and their place in society, changed due to the rise of political liberalism. As the Catholic Church has long been intimately intertwined with Spain’s history, this era of change is a prime arena in which to explore the relationship between church and state in Spain. Costumbrismo, a decidedly autobiographical genre of literature, has the potential to reveal Spanish society’s attitudes and concerns about this shift. To accurately contextualize costumbrista texts, it is necessary to consider other periodical sources from this era. An examination of serial publications from 19th century Spain housed in Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) and Hemeroteca Municipal (Municipal Archives) reveals that costumbrista literature echoes contemporary periodicals published by the Church during the first part of the 19th century, but begins to contest these same publications by the latter half of the century. This evolution suggests that the secular publishers of costumbrista literature wrote in a way that favored Spain’s shift from absolutism toward liberalism.
Funding Provided by: Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant

Reinaldo Arenas: A Life of Poetry, Politics and Prose

Margaret (Maggie) Munts (2016); Additional Collaborator(s): Enrico Santi (University of Kentucky); Mentor(s): Nivia Montenegro

Abstract: Diverse and numerous, the writings of deceased Cuban novelist, activist and poet Reinaldo Arenas share a common thread: truth. Whether describing the Baroque period, criticizing Fidel Castro or exploring the Cuban LGBTQ experience, Arenas unapologetically states his truth. Professors Nivia Montenegro of Pomona College and Enrico Mario Santi of the University of Kentucky have collected many of Arenas's disperse works with the intention of preserving the writer's multifaceted legacy. The project of transcribing these texts has been one step in the process of bringing Arenas's candor and creativity to life as Montenegro and Santi compile a book of Arenas's works.
Funding Provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities


El imperio pintado por sí mismo: Portraits of National and Gender Identity

Madeleine DeMeules (2014); Additional Collaborator(s): Cynthia Madrigal; Mentor(s): Mary Coffey

Abstract: In the early nineteenth century, a new genre of literature, costumbrismo, emerged throughout Spain and the Americas. Costumbrismo aims to depict the everyday characters typical of a nation through vignettes and accompanying illustrations. A focused comparison of costumbrista literature in collections from Spain (1843-44 & 1851), Cuba (1852), and Mexico (1854) reveals deeper themes than just social portraits. These collections actually illuminate the political relationships between Spain and these colonial entities. When examined through a lens of post-colonial theory, the Spanish and Mexican collections dialogue politely and offer similarities between these two nations, as Mexico has already garnered independence. Cuba, however, clashes with Spain as this still colonial island is just beginning to rebel against Spanish authority and create its own identity. Beyond these post-colonial relationships, costumbrismo literature offers many more areas for future analysis of these countries and their literature, such as gender politics and questions of religion.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP